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Dr. Paula Barreras and her colleagues create spheres of living brain cell tissue from skin cells. They are proving that these brain organoids can offer testing and research platforms normally reserved for animals.

This podcast explores

  • the process of growing the organoids, from skin cells to spherical clumps,
  • the brain cell structures these spheres have been able to produce, such as myelin-wrapped axons, and
  • the possible neurological disorders treatment and neurotoxicity issues they will be able to research with these organoids.

Pursuing a postdoc at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Paula Barreras talks about the research involved in creating BrainSpheres. Their mission is to create approximations of the brain to use for testing to predict how a real brain might work.

They create small sphere of human cells that they then manage to convert to neurons and glial cells in a cold culture in vitro process, an extremely challenging process to uphold. Applications for this breakthrough include studies into neurotoxicity and neurological disorders treatment.

Most brain studies are on animal models, which is an inherently problematic model because of the different biology. Because the organoids are human-based models, they can improve scientists’ understanding of brain function and treatment. Dr. Barreras explains that these models have shown evidence of synapses (neurons are talking to each other), myelination, and spontaneous electrical activity.

She explains the creation process to listeners, including the move from adult skin cells to stem cells and then to neuro progenitor cells. These then develop into neurons and other brains cells. After explaining additional technical nuances, she articulates some of the most pivotal aspects of this work.

For example, because these organoids produce myelin, scientists may use this research to make inroads into treating diseases like multiple sclerosis, which is a demyelination disease. There’s also potential for virus treatmenst, such as the Zika virus and a better understanding of the JC virus, which as a human-only virus, has no animal model study possibility.

For more, see this Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health web page, which includes a video about the mini-brain: https://www.jhsph.edu/yearlook/2016/mini-brains-made-to-order/

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